Crisis Forces Japanese Farmers To Destroy Crops The government is asking people not to eat spinach, parsley and other produce grown near the damaged nuclear power plant because some is tainted with radiation. This is putting some farmers, many of whom have to demolish whole crops, in a bind.
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Crisis Forces Japanese Farmers To Destroy Crops

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Crisis Forces Japanese Farmers To Destroy Crops

Crisis Forces Japanese Farmers To Destroy Crops

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Japan, the government is trying to keep radiation out of the food supply. Dairy farmers are dumping their milk; drinking water has been a problem in some locations, including briefly Tokyo. And now, the government is asking people not to eat spinach, parsley and other produce grown near a damaged nuclear plant.

We begin this hour with NPR's Richard Harris, who reports on the toll all this is taking on Japanese farmers.

RICHARD HARRIS: You might expect that reports of radiation on food would create a sense of panic in Japan. But step into the Ecos grocery store in Ibaraki Prefecture, and nothing seems to be amiss.

Produce manager Kenki Utsuno is restocking the shelves with a leafy green called komatsuna. Even though this region has been hit with traces of radiation, the shelves here are full of cabbage, radishes, many different types of mushrooms, even spinach. But it's not from around here.

Mr. KENKI UTSUNO (Produce Manager, Ecos Grocery Store): (Through translator) Usually, we like to have local fruits and vegetables. But since the problem in Fukushima, even for vegetables other than just spinach, we're trying to import from outside of the prefecture, just to help the customers feel safe.

HARRIS: It's typical in Japan that each piece of produce is labeled with the place it was grown, so people can buy spinach that they know was harvested far from the nuclear reactors. But Utsuno says people are buying less of all produce as they react to what they're hearing on the news.

An older woman named Yoko Keiko is trying to decide between two different varieties of cabbage, and she doesn't care where they were grown.

Ms. YOKO KEIKO: (Through translator) I try not to think about it. I don't worry about it and I just choose depending on the price.

HARRIS: The brunt of this crisis is most evident out in the countryside.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

HARRIS: A few miles from the grocery store, Keiji Nagashima tends a spinach farm that he inherited from his father. He's been growing spinach for 25 years here in Ibaraki. This region is a major source of produce for Tokyo, which is just a couple of hours away by truck.

Is it a good business?

Mr. KEIJI NAGASHIMA (Farmer): (Through translator) It's hard work.

HARRIS: Nagashima is standing outside a row of six long greenhouses. In January, he planted 30,000 spinach plants in each one. His farm wasn't tested, so he doesn't even know if the plants are contaminated. But the government has said all spinach from Ibaraki Prefecture needs to be destroyed.

Mr. NAGASHIMA: (Through translator) I think what we'll end up doing is just let the spinach die. And then after that we'll bury it.

HARRIS: Will you get paid for it?

Mr. NAGASHIMA: (Through translator) Personally, they haven't told me anything.

HARRIS: Do you grow anything other than spinach?

Mr. NAGASHIMA: (Through translator) Right now, just spinach.

HARRIS: So this is your whole livelihood.

Mr. NAGASHIMA: (Through translator) Yeah, I can't have a life without the spinach.

HARRIS: He's getting advice from Junichi Matsuda. He works for the Japanese Agricultural Extension Service. Matsuda says the government intends to pay the farmers for their lost crops, but at the moment they're tied up dealing with the much bigger crisis up the coast.

Matsuda takes a deep drag on his cigarette and says that he's personally a bit worried, but not enough to stop eating the vegetables he grows in his own garden.

Mr. JUNICHI MATSUDA: (Through translator) I'm living my life as I was before, and I'm continuing to spend time outside. And so, I'm not worried. The country has assured us that we're safe, and so I trust them.

HARRIS: In fact, we heard that refrain often. People in Japan respect and trust their government.

(Soundbite of loudspeaker)

HARRIS: A loudspeaker that's part of Japan's emergency response network broadcasts the latest news about conditions for farmers out in their fields. The word is that the water here has been tested, and it's not contaminated.

We head back into town and our interpreter, Emiko Ohmori, stops into her local grocery store to buy bottled water for her school-age children.

Ms. EMIKO OHMORI (Interpreter): I can't really find any big bottles of water. This man's buying up small ones that I have, too, so maybe he's looking for the same thing.

HARRIS: It's been this way since the earthquake and tsunami 12 days before, she says. Small bottles will have to do.

Ms. OHMORI: No, no big bottles of water.

HARRIS: Richard Harris, NPR News, Tokyo.

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